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Patterns of Trade and Consumption of Valuable Objects in the Northern Aegean Area in the 2nd Millennium BC

Final Report Summary - VALUABLES (Patterns of Trade and Consumption of Valuable Objects in the Northern Aegean Area in the 2nd Millennium BC)

The project Patterns of Trade and Consumption of Valuable Objects in the Northern Aegean Area in the 2nd Millennium BC was devoted to the study of jewellery, seals, weapons and other objects that have been found in North Aegean settlements, cemeteries and other contexts during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. The aim of the project was to collect information on these items as well as to evaluate the data in respect to their technology of manufacture, function, origin, and value within the prehistoric societies.
The project was hosted at the German Archaeological Institute, Istanbul Department, but some parts of the study were conducted in the Institute of Prehistory in Heidelberg, at the archaeological museums in Istanbul, Thessaloniki, and Çanakkale, the National Museum in Athens, as well as other institutions and excavation depots. The technology of production of objects made of semi-precious stones was investigated in cooperation with Prof. Mark Kenoyer and Geoffrey Ludvik MA from the University of Wisconsin, who did microscopic analysis of silicon impressions of drilling channels and surfaces of objects made of semi-precious stones. Chemical analysis of metal, vitreous and stone objects was conducted in cooperation with Prof. Ernst Pernicka from the Kurt Engelhorn Centrum for Archaeometry.
The North Aegean was always considered a “back water” compared to eastern Mediterranean civilisations and the topic of its interregional connections received much less attention than it actually deserves. The most prominent site in this area is Troy, famous for its monumental architecture and above all, its legend. The Early Bronze Age treasures discovered by Schliemann are well known, but the public is much less familiar with the valuable objects found in the layers dating to the 2nd Millennium. Another important site in the area of study is the cemetery of Beşik-Tepe, which probably functioned as Troy’s Aegean port-town. Mikro Vouni on Samothrace, Kokounisi on Lemnos and Kastri on Thasos were prominent settlements located on the north Aegean islands. The Middle and Late Bronze Age culture in Macedonia was very complex. Central Macedonia is the area of small tell settlements, some of them like Axiochorie, Agios Mamas or Thessaloniki Toumba may have played the role of regional centres. West and south Macedonia is known from the cemeteries, many of which were discovered in the area of Mount Olympus.
The analysis conducted in the framework of the project has shown that the patterns of trade and consumption of valuable objects in the 2nd Millennium in the North Aegean had a very differentiated trajectory. The beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1800 BC) was the time of modest settlement and isolation. During the next period (ca. 1800-1600 BC) the situation changed most probably due to the Minoan presence or very strong Minoan influences attested on the islands: Samothrace and Lemnos. Minoan objects found at Troy, such as certain types of stone vessels or a carnelian seal with the depiction of the wild goat may have arrived via these islands. At the present state of research it seems that Macedonia and Thrace were not affected by this provincial “Minoanisation”.
The situation changed during the Late Bronze Age. The time of the 14th and 13th century BC was the most prosperous and builds to an absolute high point of long distance trade and demand for exotic and luxury objects. It is important to note that during this time considerable quantities of imported goods are also attested in Macedonia. There are interesting differences between the eastern and western parts of the study area. In Macedonia the local and Balkan elements, such as bronze beads, bone pins, and various kinds of stone pendants mix with the objects coming from the south. The situation is best illustrated in the cemetery at Agios Dimitrios situated at the foot of Mt. Olympus (ca. 13th-12th century BC). Typical Mycenaean glass beads and steatite seals comprise the grave goods together with roughly shaped amber beads and big, pierced amber pebbles coming from the north. In the east, in contrast, Balkan or other European elements are almost non-existent among the personal ornaments or other valuable objects. Additionally imports include not only objects that could have originated in Mycenae, but also some more exotic items, like ostrich egg shells, faience spacer beads or a pin with an opium-poppy shaped head made of ivory. Sites like Troy participated in trade networks running along the Anatolian coast where not only west Anatolian and Mycenaean, but also some goods coming from the eastern Mediterranean entered into circulation. Smaller Macedonian centres were probably linked by maritime and land routes with southern Greece and the central Balkans.
This project was the first comprehensive study devoted to valuable objects from the North Aegean. The issue of trade in luxury, prestige items found in south Aegean Minoan and Mycenaean contexts has been very intensively analysed in numerous volumes, but the North Aegean appeared only on the margins of these discussions. Therefore the publications produced from this project will fill a very important gap in the research on the Aegean Bronze Age. They will also help to clarify the role of Troy in the 2nd Millennium in the Aegaeo-Anatolian world.

Photograph: Late Bronze Age carnelian seal from Troy. It was manufactured in the south Aegean around 17th-16th century BC and deposited in Troy in the 12th century BC.

Magda Pieniazek (